Today is John Berryman's 100th birthday, which has nothing to do with where this lovely painting of a bee pollinating flowers might be located. But I thought it worth mentioning, particularly since most readers won't be familiar with John Berryman (don't feel bad; until recently I kept confusing him with John Ashbery, another American poet, because both have the first name "John" and "berry" or "-bery" in their last names. Harold Bloom I'm not).
Today's birthday is especially noteworthy, since the centennial of another great poet, Dylan Thomas, is this Monday (John Ashbery was born in July, so we can leave him out of this, or try to). I'll be writing about his legacy in Chicago then.
A coincidence, to have such major poets born a day apart: I can't think of another instance like it, unless it's Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin being born on the same day, but neither were very good poets.
Both came to early ends: Thomas drinking himself to death at age 39, downing his famous 18 whiskies at the White Horse Tavern in New York, Berryman a suicide at 57, jumping to his death in Minneapolis, from the Washington Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi. Sad to think that men so capable of carefully crafting deathless words could be so careless in preserving their own lives, but that is the familiar pattern, established in part by these two (John Ashbery is, miribile dictu, still alive, at 87, and a reminder that as bad as it is for the person involved and everyone they know, early death can be a savvy career move).
I only became familiar with Berryman working on my new book—my co-author Sara Bader and I quote from his novel Recovery and his exquisite "Eleven Addresses to the Lord," which begin:
Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
"Boring moon"—that's such a great phrase, and where you see Berryman's whimsy peeking through. You can hear the first address read by Mark Jarman by clicking here. Though my favorite lines from the lengthy work—a prayer really, though if more prayers were like this then more people would pray—are these:
Fearful I peer upon the mountain path
where once Your shadow passed. Limner of the clouds
up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid,
I never until now confessed.
I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons:
You were good to me, & a delicious author.
I think it's the simple selfish honesty of the first words of that last line and the plain truth of the concluding phrase. Though if you know what "up their phantstic guesses" means, please tell me, as I have no idea.
I'm tempted to make answering that question the contest, but it would be hard to pick a winner, which would be unfortunate, as today's activity has a special prize for the person who solves it.
Every goddam day welcomes two sponsors in November. Our old friend, Eli's Cheesecake will be back, to enliven November and December with their holiday advertisements, as they did last year. And Bridgeport Coffee, which will have an ad go up in the middle of November. They've showered me with bags of their locally-roasted beans. I've tried "Mayors Blend," which is not as strong as I expected, aptly enough given the name, but makes for very drinkable, flavorful brew.
The first person to guess where this gorgeous bee is painted wins a 12 ounce bag of whole bean Mayors Blend (the lack of a possessive gave me pause, but to be charitable to an advertiser—a long journalistic tradition; God, I hope this doesn't wind up on Romenesko—can be explained, sort of, by the fact that, as the bag notes, Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood was "home to 5 of Chicago's 45 mayors." A plurality of mayors, so it can be "Mayors Blend" the way Nov. 11 is "Veterans Day" (yet in May comes "Mother's Day," despite the multitude of mothers. An idiosyncratic language, this).
And though the coffee bag is a little vague whether the it is the coffee the Bridgeport mayors, or both, that are "smooth and loved by everyone," that could be the subject of reasonable debate, which is always enhanced by good coffee. Anyway, best of luck, and please post your guesses below. Twitter and Facebook guesses don't count.